in vain (used colloquially)

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dec-sev

Senior Member
Russian
Hallo:
My suggestion:
I didn't live this day for nothing;
I didn't live this day in vain.

Please note that English in vain is much more formal than Russian не зря.

My try for Не зря я так думал: I was right to think that / I was right to think so.
This is an extract from a thread on the Russian forum dedicated to a Russian expression that can be translated into English as “ not in vain” or “not for nothing” ("It's not for nothing that I'm doing karate every day), depending on the context. I’m interested in your opinions with respect to what’s in blue, or, better to say, I’d like to know if “in vain” in English is that formal. I mean, do you use it colloquially in situations like this:
- Have you bought beer?
- No, I went to the shop, but in vain: it was closed
.”?
I’m asking because the person who wrote that post is not an English native, although she lives in the US.
Thanks in advance.
 
  • ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Hallo Dec. Sorry I can't comment on the relative degrees of formality because I don't speak Russian (and this is the English Only forum;)).
    But yes, I would say that the phrase in vain is pretty formal in English.
    I certainly wouldn't say* I went to the shop but in vain, at the risk of sounding like a character from a Jane Austen novel.
    I might be tempted occasionally to use it as a 'verbal adverb' rather than a 'stand-alone adverb' (such as in the beer shop example):
    I tried in vain to light the fire ... but even that sounds a wee bit over-formal. I tried without success sounds more 'ordinary'.

    *when I say say, I mean 'use in conversation', 'use colloquially'. I agree with Mr.Batt that it's a lot commoner in written English, where it's not excessively formal.
     
    Last edited:

    Harry Batt

    Senior Member
    USA English
    "In vain" is not that formal. It appears in a lot of formal writing because it is the best way to express that something met with failure. It has a different meaning with a different context. In the sample about buying the beer "in vain" is not in context. Your sentence should read, "No, I went to the shop, but alas, it was closed. I went there in vain."
     

    dec-sev

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks a lot!!!
    Hallo Dec. Sorry I can't comment on the relative degrees of formality because I don't speak Russian (and this is the English Only forum;)).
    Yes, I know. Just wanted to give as much context as possible.
    I certainly wouldn't say* I went to the shop but in vain, at the risk of sounding like a character from a Jane Austen novel.
    :) Well, I've seen Sense and Sensibility recently and I liked it :)
     
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